Students graduate from Columbus’ Metro Early College High School.
On June 3, I delivered the following address to graduates of Columbus’ Metro Early College High School, which concentrates on STEM subjects. As a member of the Metro Governing Board, I am so proud of these students. The class of 2017 is Metro’s eighth graduating class, joining Metro’s 467 alumni. Every one of this year’s graduates has been accepted into college. Here is the message I shared with them.
Congratulations graduates and greetings to parents, friends, colleagues and board members. I am honored to be here.
One of my early mentors shared with me that knowledge is always for sale, but wisdom is given for free.
I have three wisdoms to share with you today, three word pairs to reflect on. I hope their light might help you find your way through the darkness of information overload and indecision.
The first is a dichotomy: Thrive vs. survive.
To thrive is not the same as surviving. I know. I’m a survivor. Maybe some of you are now as well. Surviving is the power to endure. You see it celebrated a lot these days, with marches and ribbons, even parties sometimes.
Surviving is living close to the wire. Sometimes that is what you have to do. Being on this side of the wire is better than the alternative. But survival ought not be your purpose, your primary aim in life.
Your aim should be to thrive — to live vigorously, to advance, to grow, to be happy, to learn, to love and to accomplish. Survival is none of those things. Learn to thrive.
The second word pair: Destruction vs. construction
Destruction is easy; construction is hard. You know this. You built robots in teams along with many other class and community projects. It took weeks, but ruination was always lurking near. Ruination could occur with one arm wave; in fact, that might have happened to you. You might have had to start over. And over.
So you know, destruction is easier than construction. Destruction of buildings and bridges, yes, but also organizations, industry workplaces, schools, governments and even families.
To be the naysayer, the contrarian, the belligerent responder, the temptress and the wrecking ball–these are all destructive pathways, tempting perhaps because they are speedy and easy and require no preparation.
Construction always takes longer, building buildings and building relationships that cross divides and last over time, but there will be little human good in the world without the time spent, the honest effort, the thinking and the doing to make it happen.
Identify destruction. Choose construction.
A third dichotomy: Certainty and Uncertainty
You are graduating from a STEM school, emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math, in a moment when our larger society is questioning the value of science and scientific research altogether. The public wants sure answers to their questions, and it is dismayed when science changes course.
Is science true? No, not really. Science is and always will be about uncertainty, about the pursuit of alternative explanations, based on evidence, that explain ever more fully what is and what is not. That is not to be confused with alternative facts. Science builds brick by brick on a strong foundation. Alternative facts have no foundation.
Science is, to say it another way, about failure. It is through failure that we learn. I give you permission to fail; the world may tell us not to fail, but you must take risks, and with risks come the chances for both success and failure.
Can there then be any certainty? Yes, yes. I am certain that science is tentative; that is its nature. And, I tentatively hold close my scientific facts. Science is always the march toward greater truth; it is not the truth, at least not truth with a capital “T”.
Science demands that we change our minds and our perspectives, our way of seeing and understanding. It demands that we do it over and over and over again.
Don’t fret. Embrace the uncertainty. Don’t hide the errors, or be afraid to say you’re wrong.
If we have any responsibility as human beings, it is our responsibility to learn from our mistakes and misunderstandings.
Those are the wisdoms I brought with me today.
When faced with destruction, choose construction.
When making goals, choose thriving above surviving.
When certainty tries to dominate, preserve uncertainty.
Now gather your robes. Go off! Do well, be well and live well.